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Blood test to detect cancer could see patients taken off toxic therapies

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The potentially life-saving development – the culmination of 20 years’ work at Manchester’s Christie Hospital and the University of Manchester – means patients will have a greater chance of being taken off toxic therapies faster. Until now doctors have relied on CT scanning to identify and monitor certain tumours.

However the results can be a “crude” measure of cancer growth and can lead to unnecessary and harmful treatments.

Scientists have been seeking an alternative that could allow patients’ progress to be monitored more easily and accurately.

The blood test, which is going through its final trials, identifies cancer growth in patients treated with anti-blood vessel drugs.

These work by blocking tumours’ blood supply to starve them of oxygen and nutrients.

The new test picks up a marker protein – called Tie2.

When Tie2 levels are reduced, it shows the drugs are working effectively.

When Tie2 returns to its previous level it indicates the drugs have stopped working.

The test has been successfully trialled in ovarian, bowel and bile-duct cancers.

Professor Gordon Jayson, a consultant medical oncologist at The Christie cancer centre and the University of Manchester, said: “This is a very exciting, long-awaited and much-needed breakthrough in research and treatment, which should have a global impact.

“Scans tell us the size of a lump but they cannot really tell us what is in it.

“Now we have these blood vessel markers, we can work out whether blood vessels or cancer cells are starting to grow.

“It means we can bring cancers under control by stabilising them rather than watching them relapse and then respond to more treatment.”

He added: “We are moving towards a world of personalised cancer therapy using a combination of expensive, toxic drugs, and it’s important we use them in the right way.

“The blood test will enable us to rapidly react to a patient’s response to a treatment, stop it if it isn’t working and quickly consider other options that could be of more benefit – potentially extending the patient’s life.”

The blood test will be rolled out across the NHS if approved by health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

It is hoped it could be available for widespread use within two to three years.

Assessments are being carried out under a Cancer Research UK-funded programme known as Valtive, a partnership with The Christie Pathology Partnership, Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarker Centre and the NCRI Ovarian Cancer Research Group.

Dr Phillip Monaghan, consultant clinical scientist from The Christie said: “This blood test is a game-changer in the treatment of cancer.”

Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s fantastic to see this test move from the lab to an NHS setting.”

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